After delays and postponements, due to the COVID pandemic, in late fall of 2022, my daughter and I did the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, arranged and escorted by Samurai Tours. It’s hard to explain the overall experience, but I will try.The professional and personable staff of Samurai Tours, made the all the tedious, and sometimes confusing travel arrangements, Visas, itineraries, … a breeze. From the time we arrived in Japan, making sure we were on the correct trains, to the time we left, was all coordinated and clear.Our tour leader, was Mike Roberts, who met us at our initial hotel. Mike is friendly and knowledgeable, and explained what were going to experience over the next 3 weeks. He explained about Temple etiquette, traditional pilgrim attire, sites of interest in each of the cities during our free days, and provided background on each of the Temples before each visit, places to eat, and local historical information. Mike is also fluent in English and Japanese, so it made communications easy.Our free days, where arranged, so we would be in a larger city, where you can always find something to do, or eat, and of course do some laundry.The part of the trip, that was most impactful was visiting the 88 Temples themselves. Whether they be tucked away in small towns, in the middle of the country, in a city suburb, or on some of the highest mountains, was breathtaking. These Temples have been standing for over 1000 years, and some are undergoing restoration.Even though we traveled in a mini-Van, which made the tour comfortable during those long distances, we did experience some efforted walking, when the Temples were within a few miles of each other. We also enjoyed some vigorous hikes to the mountain Temples, on steep trails and stairs, in the cool mountain air, and on the rare long day.Being able to see in person, all the water features, statues, beautiful gardens, the main halls where the religious ceremonies take place, tracing Buddhist traditions back over a millennia, was awe inspiring.Not being Buddhist ourselves, we experienced the traditional rituals for a pilgrim, wearing the appropriate attire, the proper way of entering a temple which includes washing of the hands for spiritual cleansing, ringing of the bell, lighting candles and incense and reciting any reverent or spiritual text we wished, and asking for a blessing for ourselves or another.Meeting other pilgrims from around the world and Japan, whether they were in your Samurai Tour group or not, sharing stories, eating together, and exchanging name slips, is all part of the experience.Along the way, you gain a greater understanding of the Buddhist teachings -- that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment.It all culminates at the 88th Temple, where you and your fellow pilgrims (friends) say your final prayers, make your final offering, and are offered a chance receive your certificate of completion, handwritten in mix of Japanese and ancient san skrit.A final farewell dinner is planned with your fellow pilgrims, the night before you part. A chance to share some last minute stories, exchange contact information, and possibly shed a few tears of happiness.Would I recommend this tour?Without a doubt – Absolutely Yes !
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